This exhibition was organized by the Ente Quadriennale, a government institution set up in the ’30s. The 33 artists in the show were chosen by a committee of six art critics (Renato Barilli, Achille Bonito Oliva, Rossana Bossaglia, Maurizio Calvesi, Antonio Del Guercio, Cesare Vivaldi) and one artist, Ugo Attardi, who showed the poor taste of including himself among the exhibitors. The committee members had the task of singling out a series of living artists whose work could be seen as a reflection of developments in Italian art over the last 40 years; their catalogue essays acknowledge the show’s failure to achieve this goal. It is a strange, utterly “Italian” situation: if they weren’t satisfied, why didn’t they withdraw in time? The failure is based on two factors. First, there was a total absence of any historical-critical structure that might have accounted for what was included and omitted. Second, numerous artists—among the most qualified—declined the invitation to participate. There was no work by Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Enrico Castellani, Giulio Paolini, Luciano Fabro, Maurizio Mochetti, or Alberto Burri. Furthermore, the absence of a unifying, rational approach on the part of the committee makes it seem that the choice of artists emerged not from debate, but rather from a vote taken on the names proposed by individual critics. Indeed, it represents the worst way to put together a group show. It was so bad that the public wasn’t even granted the courtesy of knowing who chose what—one’s overall opinion of the show could not help but be negative.

Fortunately, art is always more meaningful than art exhibitions, and so even on this occasion it was possible to come up against strong, interesting pieces by individual artists, each of whom was given a separate room. Mimmo Rotella exhibited his “décollages” (pieces of advertising posters torn and reconfigured into new compositions), including an extremely beautiful piece, Blank Bianco (Blank white, 1980), in which the advertisement for Arctic vodka shines through from beneath a large white sheet of paper, like a forgotten relic of modern marketing. Mario Schifano’s room was filled with a multitude of postcard-size images placed in glass cases, made from photographs of images on a television screen, which were then slightly altered through pictorial intervention. Right in the center of his room, Gino De Dominicis placed a mysterious gilded pole, which extended from floor to ceiling, held in balance by a powerful but invisible magnet. With his mirrors and other kitschy domestic objects, Luigi Ontani continued his investigations of freely decorative territory, with work that was playful and carried to the point of excess. Luca Patella approached his designated space as a small, personal museum; his object-pieces are the result of a post-Duchampian alchemy based on individual instances of optical perception and on a stratification of magical-astronomical symbols. The work of Ruggero Savinio and that of Ennio Morlotti went in yet another artistic direction, staying within the lofty tradition of figurative painting. An interpretation based on personal preferences was the only way one could find any redeeming value in this exhibition, since the power of an individual work can overwhelm its context. But even this was not sufficient.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.